Push Metrolinx to choose HSR as the operators of LRT: Green

So far, Metrolinx has been looking for one consortium to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the light rail transit system. HSR says it can do two of those, and transit should stay public.
The union representing HSR drivers says HSR should operate the new LRT system. Now city council will debate asking Metrolinx to abide. (Metrolinx)

Matthew Green wants his fellow councillors to add their support to a growing movement among union and labour activists to have HSR, rather than a private company, operate Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) system.

Green will bring a motion to city council's general issues committee July 10 asking Metrolinx to let HSR operate and maintain the $1 billion system.

If councillors agree, the city will ask Metrolinx to include it in a legally binding master agreement due before the end of the year. And it will, Green says, keep transit along the 14 kilometre route public, rather than giving up control to a private corporation.

Green's call comes after a growing campaign to let city-owned HSR operate and maintain the system.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 207 launched a "Keep Transit Public" campaign last month.

Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP leader and Hamilton Centre NDP, has written Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca with the same request. Federal NDP leadership hopeful Jagmeet Singh joined ATU members in late June to distribute flyers at the MacNab transit terminal.

Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, will bring a motion forward at a July 10 meeting. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Green's motion, if it passes, will put that sentiment into action.

But Metrolinx is already well along the way in its process of short listing bidders for the project, and so far, it seems unlikely to change course.

The agency issued a call for interest for companies — likely a consortium — in February to not only design and build the 14-kilometre system from McMaster University to Eastgate Square, but to operate it as well. It would likely be a public-private partnership, Metrolinx said.

And Metrolinx, which has already spent millions, is the lead on the project.

"Why couldn't they break up the operations and maintenance from design and build?" said Green.

As for his support for LRT, "I wouldn't say it's conditional," he said. But "it's of no surprise that I'm a strong supporter in (Amalgamated Transit Union) and the HSR."

There's also a time crunch in deciding who will operate the system. Metrolinx will short list interested bidders by fall, and the agency wants to start LRT construction by 2019. The system should be operational by 2024.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 has launched a "Keep Transit Public" campaign. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

There is precedent though. The province was taking a similar approach with the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and after public outcry, it ended up using the TTC, Horwath said. 

"It's not too late to do the same thing for the Hamilton LRT," she told Del Duca.

"In the past, your government has agreed to far more significant changes at this stage."

In an email Tuesday, Metrolinx said the consortium it chooses will likely operate the system for 30 years. 

"This approach transfers risk to the consortium and provides a strong incentive for high quality design and construction since the same people building the project will be responsible and accountable for operating and maintaining it after it is complete," it said. 

Metrolinx will keep ownership of the system, it said. The GO network, York Region Transit, the York VIVA bus rapid transit project, and LRT systems in Waterloo, Mississauga and Brampton all use this model.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC